Senator Ted Kennedy’s Last Words on Refugees

Last week, the world was saddened by the passing of Senator Edward Kennedy. NYU Press is privileged to be publishing a book that Senator Kennedy endorsed, about an issue he was deeply interested in. Refugee Roulette: Disparities in Asylum Adjudication and Proposals for Reform, an important book about the asylum process in the United States, features an in-depth study that Senator Kennedy supported and endorsed.

Senator Kennedy’s foreword for the book is now available for free online. A brief excerpt is below, and the whole thing can be read online at

The United States has long stood tall in the world in its commitment to the protection of refugees. In the Refugee Act of 1980, Congress and the administration reaffirmed our nation’s commitment to refugees by striking the former discriminatory system that favored refugees from certain countries and discouraged others from seeking safe haven in the United States because of geographical or ideological considerations. The Refugee Act also established for the first time a uniform asylum program enabling refugees who are physically present in the United States to receive needed protection. Through these programs, millions of the world’s persecuted have been given the opportunity to begin their lives anew in safety and dignity.

By protecting refugees from persecution, we honor our nation’s finest traditions. But, as the information in this remarkable book makes clear, all is not well in the current asylum system. In a thoroughly researched study, the authors lay bare in painstaking detail the fact that many refugees are being turned away from protection in this country for reasons unrelated to the merits of their individual claims.

This important study demonstrates that in the current system, the decision whether to permit a refugee to remain in the United States to avoid persecution in his native land is strongly affected by the immigration judge’s work experience, personal bias, gender, and lack of training; by the court to which the case is assigned; and by whether the refugee is fortunate enough to have effective legal representation. The authors describe, for example, how a woman fleeing persecution in Colombia would have an 88 percent chance of prevailing before one of the judges in the Department of Justice’s Miami Immigration Court, but only a 5 percent chance before another judge in the same court. Similarly, one immigration judge in a New York Immigration Court was found to be nineteen times more likely to grant asylum to an Albanian applicant than another judge on the same court. Such “refugee roulette” is unacceptable in a system thatmakes life-or-death decisions for some for the world’s most vulnerable persons.

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